PAX West 2013 Report and Gallery

Another PAX, survived.

This one was a little more nuts than usual, and that’s saying something.  Allow me to enumerate the additional levels of difficulty this year:


All things considered, though, it went really well, thanks as usual to my incredible volunteers from the SpyParty community.  This year, John and I had tireless help from zerotka, drawnonward, wodar, canadianbacon, zapdsl, and ardonite, and we could not have done it without them!2

Actually, this year, I have even more people to thank than usual:

  • Jeff Roberts, my debt to you follows the Ackerman Function.
  • Ben Kutcher, for adding NUCtastic to your long list of positive personality traits.
  • I’d like to thank Riot Games for setting up my booth.
  • Kelly Wallick, a long-time friend who also happens to run the Indie MEGABOOTH, saved our bacon using eldrich equipment magic.
  • My daughter, for making a SpyParty t-shirt for me, and telling me I had to wear it in the booth.  I have no idea how a 10-year-old knows what a martini is; I blame her mother.

You’d think after doing so many shows, we’d have this down, but there were a few things we kinda screwed up this year.  All were correctable, and all were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but I figure they’re worth mentioning just for the record:

  • We were so busy trying to get the new artwork into the build we didn’t think through the flow of the booth enough, and for the first half of the first day it was basically impossible to see there was anything new in the game.  We had a new level running with the new characters and environments alongside the old levels, but since all the machines were playing the old maps, either as training, or because the new stuff isn’t balanced yet, there was no way for somebody stopping by the booth to see the new stuff.  I would occasionally take over a machine to show somebody the new stuff, but it wasn’t a natural part of the booth flow.  Thankfully, Kelly came to our rescue, and we got a big HDTV on a stand set up, and I hacked an attract-mode into the game, and that helped a lot!
  • There were no signs until the last day that the beta was open, and since the majority of people who visit the booth haven’t heard of the game, or have only heard about it vaguely (see this lecture), a lot of people had no idea they could play online immediately.  You know you’re not thinking straight when you don’t even follow the advice of your own lectures on indie game marketing.
  • We didn’t do a great job of line management the first day, so it felt pretty slow.  I actually didn’t realize how important this was until I noticed the lack of people and pieced together what was missing.  Unfortunately, I was so distracted by last minute programming and logistics that I didn’t notice until the end of Friday.  People who come to your booth want to know where they stand in the world, both figuratively and literally.  If it feels disorganized or if they don’t know how long they’re going to have to wait, they drift off.  Line management is really important.  As soon as we started combing out the line, letting people know what order they were in, and that they needed to read the manual, the booth felt like normal again, with a line of folks reading the manual, onlookers watching the screens, etc.  Lesson learned (and if you’re an indie with a booth, hopefully knowledge transferred)!


The big secret of the whole show for me was that SpyParty was selected as the final game of the Omegathon, the overarching meta-tournament for PAX.  The rest of the games are announced beforehand, but the last game is kept secret, and sprung on the two players for the finals.  Robert Khoo mailed me asking if they could use SpyParty back in late July, we plotted about the right way to do it (since the Omeganauts weren’t going to be able to read the manual!), and I prepared two laptops to play the game on stage.  On the day, Ben Kuchera and Dabe Alan came to the booth, picked up John and me, and we went to go set up.  Sadly, I had to keep even our volunteers in the dark!

The games were great!  Lt. Hummus and Nantucket did a really wonderful job playing under intense pressure, having just had their brains exploded by my rapid-fire tutorial.  Lt. Hummus was kicking himself, because he’d joined the beta a month ago but hadn’t gotten around to playing yet!

I really appreciate Jerry, Mike, and Robert picking SpyParty for the finals; they’ve been fans of the game for a while, and I think they did a wonderful job with the whole thing.  This may sound a bit odd, but as the game designer, I was most impressed by how much respect they afforded SpyParty in the proceedings.  They could have easily hammed it up on stage, or made some wacky game variation for the final match, but they (and the audience) really got the deep concentration part of the design and they totally understood and worked with my questions and concerns about using the game, and it went off nigh perfectly.  I was over the moon!

Here are some good links:

The New Art

People seemed to love the new art, once we were actually able to show it to them!  The new art will be in the public beta build this week sometime, maybe tomorrow.  If you want to check it out, sign up for the beta this way right over here.  Be warned, it is in there, but it’s not very playable, it’s more of a tech demo right now.  It’ll get more playable as time goes on, but the main maps for actually playing the game will remain the old art ones for quite some time!  Much more on this soon when I release the build and stream the release notes!

Picture Gallery

Finally, the pictures!  Since this post is all about the bullet-points, here are some highlights:

  1. …for some suitably liberal definition of “playable” []
  2. like, literally, we could not have actually done the conference without them! []
  3. Or so he claims…but look, a black man with a goatee who is not Morgan Freeman!!! []


  1. WarningTrack says:

    Super cool. Thanks for sharing! I love reading about this stuff, and the pictures are great.

  2. WarningTrack says:

    Oh, while I’m thinking of it, what are the chances there’ll be a recording of the “Designing, Shaping, and Examining Online Player Behavior” panel popping up down the line?

    • checker says:

      Not sure, I think somebody was recording it in the audience, but I haven’t seen a link.  The summary of the panel was the SpyParty community is the best community, and I didn’t even say it!

  3. KrazyCaley says:

    Dibs on helping out next year if it happens again.

  4. Iceman says:

    Love the shirt your daughter made!!! (Although I can’t figure out what she has against olives…)

  5. Keith says:

    How did you capture me so many times? I thought I was doing really well avoiding most of the shots.

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